To Know Sisto Was To Know Melbourne And The Meaning Of Family

Sisto Malaspina was confirmed as the fatality of Friday's Bourke Street tragedy in the heart of Melbourne.

To have met Sisto was to have experienced Melbourne and the meaning of family.

The 74-year-old was co-owner, face and heart of Melbourne institution Pellegrini’s, a legendary pasta and coffee bar in the CBD. He’s run the eatery since 1974 and introduced the first espresso coffee machine to the caffeine-loving city. Until his death, he was working 70-hour weeks behind the counter, serving his beloved customers, loving life and Melbourne.

Scroll through social media, watch Saturday's news and read Sunday's paper, and you will come to understand just what this charismatic man meant to his city and its people.

Sisto in 2010 (WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)

I’ve lived in Melbourne for a decade but am embarrassed to admit I only visited Pellegrini’s for the first time earlier this year.

Walking into the old school Italian café was like stepping back in time with its 1950s décor. After all, its neon sign is heritage listed, and the menu has not changed since the café opened in 1954.

READ MORE: 'Disbelief': Bourke Street Victim Identified As Beloved Cafe Owner Sisto Malaspina

Photos which decorated the walls told the tale of an earlier time in Melbourne and was a who’s who of celebrities -- sportspeople, musicians and actors from all over the globe who’d performed in the capital city and got to experience some of Pelligrini’s magic. And kept coming back for more.

On my first visit, I was greeted by Sisto, and his colleagues, like a long-lost family member and then treated accordingly as I sat up at the counter and enjoyed the best spaghetti and latte I’ve ever experienced. Or “Caffe latte” as Sisto would say! He also treated me to a Granita, on the house.

There was something about his charm and warmth and the feel of this place that left me wanting to go back for more. It felt like home. The comfort food and loving service a wonderful fix in a moment of loneliness.

In the months since I’ve made sure I’ve popped in whenever I’ve been in the city, after a meeting or before going to the theatre.

I was there just two weeks ago for lunch, where I would see Sisto and have the pleasure of his company for the final time.

Reading tributes on social media today from regulars at Pellegrini's and personal friends, new and old, has provided great comfort as we all try to make some sense from this tragedy. How is it that a human who bought so much joy, life and vibrancy to this wonderful Melbourne street was slain on it?

One post which struck me was from Home and Away’s Penny McNamee who told of her two stints in Melbourne and as a young actress how she found comfort and company, and left with a full stomach, from Sisto and his beloved business.

Opposition leader, and Melburnian, Bill Shorten tweeted about how he’d visited since school and as recently as last Monday when Sisto insisted he try a piece of his almond cake.

Russell Crowe shared that he’d been dropping in since 1987 and had never been to Melbourne without visiting Sisto.

One of my Twitter followers says Pellegrini’s was her 82-year-old mum’s lunch hangout when she arrived in town as an immigrant. She is devastated by Sisto’s passing.

Today, Pellegrini's is closed. A sign inside the window advises the business will be closed until Monday. A stunning floral tribute is growing by the hour. Sisto’s business partner Nino Pangrazio, associate for 44 years and friend for 54, was consoled at the scene this morning.

While our hearts are heavy, we will wrap our arms around Nino and all who knew and loved his great mate. As Aussies do.

Sisto was Melbourne. He will be sadly missed.